How my late father inspired a passage to India

Daughter sets off on seven-week trip of exploration to learn all about her rich heritage following sudden and untimely death in the family

Pam at Laxmi Villa in Vadodara
Pam at Laxmi Villa in Vadodara

It was going to be the trip of a lifetime.

Pam Batta's father had always wanted her to explore India, the country of his birth, and now they were finally going to do it together.

The mother-of-two, from Stourbridge, couldn't go last September as her son had just started secondary school and she was keen to be there at such an important time in his life. But it was no problem, the trip was planned for six months later.

But tragically, they would never get to go together. Her father Tarsem Lal, known to many in Dudley, where he ran a jewellers, as just Lal, died at his house in the Punjab while visiting family.

"Most people who came over from India in the 60s did so for work but my dad's family were quite well off in India," Pam said.

"He was an adventurer and an explorer and wanted to come to England because it was different."

Private tutor Pam Batta, from Stourbridge, with father Tarsem Lal

Lal, who was 74, was a diabetic and is believed to have suffered a hypo due to a drop in his blood sugar levels.

The death of her father was the inspiration Pam, 47, needed to go on her own adventure and find out about the country of her heritage.

The private tutor, from Stourbridge, said: "I don't know if it was fate that he was in India when he died. That was the house he built, he did the plans for it.

"He liked it here, he spent all his life here but his heart was still back home.

"My dad liked India. Some when they visit go to a family home or maybe a wedding but my dad would always plan an extra trip. He was a gallivanter and would venture off.

"At the time I thought 'oh my god, I should have gone with him' but I needed to be at home for my boys.

"But I thought 'I need to do this. I have got to see what dad used to tell me about'."

Pam set off on a seven-week trip, crossing India from north to south by planes, trains and automobiles, experiencing the different cultures, languages, sounds and smells of the vast nation home to more than a billion people.

Think of India and many people will picture the bustling cities and searing heat but Pam was able to see the real India on her trip, which involved scuba diving off sandy beaches, rock climbing in freezing mountains and going alone into dangerous territory.

She begun the trip from the Punjab by rail. Her cousin, a railway engineer, insisted he came along as he was concerned it was not safe for a woman to travel so far alone.

She stopped off at the loud and busy cities of Jaipur and Bangalore, on the coast at sun-kissed tourist destination Goa, while Pam then took a flight to the almost untouched paradise island of Lakshadweep.

"Every place is different, different languages, different people," she said.

"Down south very few people speak Hindi. They mainly like to speak Tamil.

"I would notice the older people and think 'he looks like my dad'. I would see a temple dad used to tell me about and it all came flooding back.

"At the southern most tip of India I went to the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai."

Pam at Sangam, Confluence of Zanskar and Indus River, near Leh.

For all the different languages, there was one not normally associated with India.

"I went to Pondicherry, a French colony where we had croissants for breakfast, went to French restaurants and they all spoke French," Pam said.

"In Goa it was all seafood and in Alleppey we were going about in houseboats.

"We then went to Bangalore and climbed the highest monolith in Asia.

"In Hampi there was thousands of old ruins and I visited a coffee plantation where I met a man who supplies Starbucks.

Before she left, Pam launched a fundraising drive for India's railway children, having been inspired by the Oscar-nominated film Lion, a story which has similarities to her own.

It features Slumdog Millionaire actor Dav Patel whose character attempts to find his family in India. Pam managed to raise an incredible £7,000.

Thousands of children live in and around India's train stations having tried and failed to find a better life.

Pam at Umiaid Bhawan Palace in Jaipur

And on such a special trip, Pam was not to be put off from visiting on part of the country where travelling is not always advisable.

Kashmir has been blighted by a territorial conflict for years, with both India and Pakistan staking a claim in parts of it, resulting in a deadly tug of war. Violence and clashes are not uncommon.

Pam's cousin was unable to travel any further with her and warned her the region was no place for a woman to travel alone - but she wasn't about to be deterred, even it meant telling a white lie to her loved ones.

She said: "My cousin and my husband were saying I couldn't go. I told them I was in a flat in Delhi.

"I thought 'my dad would have had the balls to go, I'm going to go'.

"The Government had taken down the internet so there was no communication with anybody.

"My husband got a text from the house boat I was on saying 'we have your wife, call urgently'. So he was probably thinking I had been kidnapped.

"It was beautiful. It was absolutely fine, there was no trouble. The security checks were huge but it was for my safety."

After the adventure of a lifetime, Pam is now back tutoring in the Black Country and says the decision to explore the country her dad was so fond of is one she is glad she decided to take.

Asked what she will remember the most about India, she said: "The diversity of the country and how lovely the people are. They are genuinely warm and welcoming."

She added: "This trip taught me my dad was right. There is a whole world out there. Don't just stay at home looking and listening to where people are going, go and do it yourself."

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